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Pakistan Says Visiting US, Taliban Negotiators to Hold Direct Talks


Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi welcomes Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who a leading Taliban delegation, upon his arrival at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in Islamabad, Pakistan, Oct. 3, 2019.

Pakistan says that visiting U.S. and Taliban delegates will hold a direct bilateral meeting to discuss resumption of peace talks aimed at ending to the nearly two decades of conflict in neighboring Afghanistan.

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, while making the announcement told reporters Islamabad is optimistic the stalled U.S.-Taliban dialogue will resume soon.

But U.S. President Donald Trump appeared non-committal.

“We have a real problem,” Trump said Thursday morning responding to VOA’s question about whether he will revive talks with the Taliban. “We've been hitting the Taliban very, very hard. And as far as I'm concerned, they still haven't recovered from killing 12 people, one of them happens to be a great American soldier from Puerto Rico. They still have not recovered, and they probably never will,” he added.

Trump was referring to Sgt. First Class Elis A. Barreto Ortiz, whose death by a suicide car bomber in Kabul, Afghanistan, claimed by the Taliban upended the peace talks in September.

Qureshi expressed optimism after holding official talks in Islamabad with a high-level delegation of the Taliban insurgency, which arrived in the Pakistani capital the previous day.

Qureshi noted that the U.S.-Taliban dialogue had almost finalized a peace deal in nine long rounds of meetings before the process broke down nearly a month ago.

“Pakistan is trying to help restart the dialogue process to bring it to its logical conclusion,” the foreign minister said. “I am happy to share with you that I have returned satisfied from my meeting with them (Taliban),” Qureshi asserted.

Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar (3rd-L), who is leading a Taliban delegation, attends a meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Islamabad, Pakistan, Oct. 3, 2019.
Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar (3rd-L), who is leading a Taliban delegation, attends a meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Islamabad, Pakistan, Oct. 3, 2019.

A Pakistani foreign ministry statement issued after Qureshi’s meeting with the Taliban noted that “both sides agreed on the need for the earliest resumption of the peace process.” Qureshi was accompanied at the meeting by the head of the Pakistani spy agency, ISI, Lt. General Faiz Hameed.

U.S. President Donald Trump abruptly cancelled the Afghan peace process on September 7, citing continued Taliban attacks on civilian and American troops in Afghanistan.

The Taliban delegation, which mostly consists of insurgent leaders who negotiated the peace deal with the U.S., arrived in Islamabad a day after the head of the American negotiating team, special reconciliation envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, landed in the Pakistani capital.

While U.S. officials insisted Khalilzad is visiting Islamabad for bilateral “consultations” with Pakistani leaders, Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen told VOA on Wednesday “I don’t rule out” a direct meeting with the U.S. delegates.

The Taliban delegation is being led by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the political deputy chief of the insurgent group and head of its office in Qatar, which played host to the now defunct U.S.-Taliban dialogue.

Taliban leaders were also expected to call on Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, said Foreign Minister Qureshi.

In his meetings with Trump and Khalilzad last week on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Khan urged the U.S. side to urgently revive the talks with the Taliban, stressing the war in Afghanistan could only be settled through political negotiations.